Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at Home A Parent's Guide
A Parents' Guide to Learning Disorders
If your child is struggling in school, it may be because of a learning disorder. Find out how learning disorders are diagnosed, and how you can help your child succeed.
By Erica Patino
Medically Reviewed by Kevin O. Hwang, MD, MPH
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Learning disorders are neurodevelopmental disabilities, which means they affect brain development. They are generally detected in children at an early age, though usually not until they begin attending school. There are several types of learning disorders, which occur in varying degrees of severity, but all affect a child's ability to perform well in the classroom. Read on to learn about the prevalence, types, and causes of learning disorders.
Prevalence of Learning Disorders
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 5 and 10 percent of school-age children have a learning disability. Socially speaking, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disorder, perhaps because they tend to act up in class when frustrated, while girls are less likely to express their struggles with learning. However, the actual percentage of boys and girls with learning disorders might be similar.
Types of Learning Disorders
Most learning disorders fall into one of four categories: spoken language, written language, arithmetic, or reasoning. "Language-based learning disorders are the most common," says Dr. Lance Clawson, a child psychiatrist and fellow at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
- Spoken-language disordersinclude trouble with articulation and difficulty understanding certain aspects of speech.
- Written-language disordersinclude difficulty reading (dyslexia) and difficulty writing (dysgraphia), including illegible handwriting.
- Arithmetic disordersinclude difficulty with calculation, math concepts, and symbols (dyscalculia). A common problem, for example, is the inability to count by twos or threes.
- Reasoning disordersare challenges related to the organization and integration of thoughts and ideas.
Contrary to popular opinion, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), sometimes called ADD (attention deficit disorder), is not a learning disorder. However, children and adults with ADHD often have learning disorders as well.
Causes of Learning Disorders
Although the causes of learning disorders are not the same in every case, they are generally related to both nature and nurture. Genetics influences a child's chance of developing a learning disorder: A particular disorder can be inherited from parents, although the percentage is not yet fully established. Learning disorders may also begin in the womb. In such cases, "it is thought that something impacted the developing brain, often early in pregnancy," says Dr. Carol Oris, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, who works as a psychiatric consultant to many school districts in Long Island, N.Y. Accidents, illnesses, and certain toxic exposures (such as lead) that affect a child’s brain can also contribute to learning disorders.
In terms of nurture, a child who misses a lot of school or has a poor learning environment, for example, is more susceptible to learning disabilities, as is a child who suffered an accident or illness that affected his or her brain or central nervous system.
Diagnosing a Learning Disorder
Parents who suspect their child may have a learning disorder should keep a journal for a few weeks to identify any patterns in problems of learning. Dr. Clawson also advises parents to watch for signs of a learning disorder even before a child enters school. "Look for a child who is a late speaker, has trouble with articulation, or has trouble following directions," he explains. If a child is already in school, parents should discuss the possible learning disorder with the child's teacher. In fact, it's not uncommon for a teacher to be the first to notice a possible learning disorder in a child, as most of these disorders become apparent during the early school years. After a child is diagnosed by a specialist, parents should consult a learning specialist — either through the child's school or on a private basis — for an evaluation.
Video: How to Recognize a Learning Disability | Child Psychology
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